May 30, 1997 2:10 PM PDT

Dirtybirds.com defies Microsoft

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What appears to be a small Los Angeles company continues to thumb its virtual nose at Microsoft this morning.

Yesterday, the software giant found out that a company using the domain "www.microsoftnetwork.com" was gobbling up dirty domain names. Today, after Microsoft said it was taking steps to remedy the situation, the Los Angeles firm is now offering to display ads for a rate of up to $1,500 per month.

According to InterNIC's records, a person named Danny Khoshnood registered "microsoftnetwork.com" on April 18, listing his company's name as The Microsoft Network. The company's Internet service provider confirmed that a customer by the name of Danny Khoshnood did indeed register "microsoftnetwork.com" and host a nondescript personal page there for a few days before pointing the page to the real Microsoft site. Today, a new page appeared sporting, among other elements, ad rates.

Starting around Sunday, Khoshnood appears to have gone on a domain registration spree. He has reserved at least 40 domains, many of them alluding to pornography, relating to Microsoft products, or using slight misspellings of other well-known sites. All the names were registered to "The Microsoft Network". Some of the domain names include "dirtybirds," "visualbasic," and "happypupy" (sic), all in the ".com" domain.

Microsoft isn't amused--the real Microsoft, that is. The company is investigating the matter and "taking steps to try to remedy the situation," a spokesman said.

It's become common practice to register misspellings and alternate spellings of popular site names in order to capitalize on the typos of Web surfers. These "near-miss" sites often sell advertising. But those companies usually take great pains to distinguish themselves from the popular site once surfers land on their pages.

"At present, nobody--not even what you might think are the 'appropriate' parties--can lay legal claim to domain names just by virtue of who they are," said Michael H. Davis, law professor at Cleveland State University, currently visiting at Hofstra Law School. "Therefore, anyone else can arguably claim [any domain name]. What they do with them, and how they do it, however, may be unlawful."

Microsoft may argue that "microsoftnetwork.com" commits the No. 1 no-no of intellectual property rules: causing confusion in consumer's minds between it and the real MSN.

Others have registered trademarked names in order to sell them to trademark holders, but the InterNIC has curbed that practice with new policies.

If the names haven't been paid for and Microsoft protests, "the InterNIC will deny the registrations, put the names 'on hold,' and then put them back in the pot of available names...although I think [Microsoft] may pass on 'pornforporn.com,'" said Edwin Hayward, Webmaster for Internet Gold-Rush, a Web site devoted to domain name speculation and news.

Meanwhile, Microsoft won't say if it has attempted to contact or take action against the Los Angeles firm or Khoshnood. "Obviously, this person's actions are not in any way related to Microsoft," the spokesman said. "This could potentially become a legal problem."

 

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